MLS ’11 Preview : Can the Black and Red Unite Under the Fiery Olsen?

Team: DC United

Coach: Ben Olsen

Last Year’s Finish: 8th Eastern Conference, 16th Overall, 6-20-4

This year’s seemingly annual retooling of DC United carries much more weight than usual.  After finishing not only the worst season in club history, but likely the worst in MLS history, United had holes to fill all over the place.  But before adding pieces to a league worst everything (attack at the bottom, tons of goals against), DCU needed to decide who would attempt to lead them from the abyss.  After initially claiming the United legend was not a candidate, the front office did a 180 and made Ben Olsen’s temporary job a permanent one.  Though lacking experience in the position and not far removed from a brilliant playing career, the feeling is that United needed a leader with his fiery passion to motivate a team that seemed to give up on itself very early last season.  In fact, virtually all the roster moves made this offseason reflect on an attempt to form the club in his image, with players who have that inherent grit and drive inside them. 

Key Roster Additions: While MLS  journeymen Stephen King and Kurt Morsink tried desperately to fill the shoes of the retired Olsen last year, there was decidedly something missing in the center of midfield.  Enter Dax McCarty, who has been brought in to really stabilize the core of said midfield.  McCarty is known as both an effective distributor and ball winner.  He has the kind of motor that is a bit reminiscent of Benny’s.  We all know what a hard time this club had putting the ball in the back of the net (among so many other difficulties).  Enter Charlie Davies, who is trying to not only help ressurect DC United, but also his career.  Davies has come full circle to the place where a car accident nearly took his life and ability to play soccer.  The onus is on Charlie to find the back of the net because the amount of proven goal scorers on this team is negligible at best.  Perry Kitchen was drafted as the 3rd overall pick and should shore up two very gray areas, defense and on – field leadership.  Kitchen is another addition in the Olsen mold; fiery, passionate, a leader, gritty, etc.   Pat Onstad has also been added as a player/coach, due to injuries.  Stikers, Joseph Ngwenya and Josh Wolff were picked up in the Re-Entry Draft.  Uruguayan defender, Rodrigo Brasesco was added to solidify the backline.

Key Roster Subtractions:  Troy Perkins was supposed to be a stabilizing influence last year and he turned out to be anything but that.  Perkins dropped off massively in quality compared to his previous DCU stint and was practically run out of town to make way for promising Academy signing, Bill Hamid.  Rodney Wallace, who spent much of last season with a broken leg, was also sent packing.  Wallace was making the transition from midfield, back to his collegiate position of left back.  He began as a starter, but his progress was stunted due to injury.  Concerning Luciano Emilio and Pablo Hernandez : the attack was flat out horrible, neither of these midseason acquistions did much to help the ball find it’s way into the back of the net. 

Projected Starters: If healthy, Bill Hamid will definitely be the starter in goal.  After a promising slate of appearances last year, Hamid like Andy Najar, showed that United’s academy must be doing something right.  However, a shoulder injury that has been nagging for some time, could see Pat Onstad start the season between the posts.  Though his first priority is the development of the young Hamid, Onstad is still darn good at 43 and so valuable in both his roles.

Last year it was pick your scapegoat for the Black and Red.  With the attack and defense being equally horrible, a dramatic sea change was on the horizon.  The backline suprisingly doesn’t appear to be too much different.  Jed Zayner will certainly occupy one of the starting fullback positions.  It appears that Dejan Jakovic and Perry Kitchen, will start in the center and potentially be a very formidable duo.  The other fullback position looks wide open.  Though Marc Burch seems the likely candidate … perhaps Brasesco will get a look there.  He is considered a more central defender but has potential to play on the flanks.

When we get to the midfield and striking corps, the big question is what formation first – year coach Ben Olsen will utilize.  Midfield is definitely where the largest amount of talent and depth coalesces.  Add that to the fact that the striking line is improved, but still somewhat barren, and it seems that going to five in the middle makes sense.  A couple of things seem to be certain: rookie of the year, Andy Najar, will be on one wing.  Expect to see McCarty and Clyde Simms forming a tough, gritty core in the center of midfield. Beyond that, depending on the formation … Santino Quaranta, Branko Boskovic and Chris Pontius appear set to fill out a wing spot and potentially an attacking midfielder or supporting striker’s role. 

Up top, we all know who the man is gonna be, Charlie Davies.  He should be on the pitch regardless of the formation.  If Olsen goes with two strikers, then we could see Joseph Ngwenya paired with Davies or perhaps Quaranta / Pontius in a support role. 

Player to Watch: Could it be more obvious here … Charlie Davies.  Though they didn’t score much last year, the club did display the ability to pass and link up well.  They often fluidly moved the ball into scoring positions, only to either finish poorly or even more concerning … simply be afraid/hesitant to shoot.  Though the entire scoring load isn’t Charlie’s responsibility, the club’s success will in large part depend on the midfield moving the ball well and Davies finishing opportunities provided. 

Predictions: This team is drastically improved from a roster standpoint this year.  There is a lot more depth and Olsen has many more options at his disposal.  Based on the way last year finished, the club can only go up.  Add to the fact that this is a league of parity and quick turnarounds; and factoring in a weak Eastern Conference, there is reason for some guarded hope.  Despite all the additions though, this is a team with a lot of questions to answer.  The least of which is not, whether Ben Olsen is ready to take the reins full time.  Then there’s the whole Charlie Davies factor. If he can’t be an inkling of his former self, where do the goals come from? How drastically will a healthy Jakovic, as well as Kitchen, improve the league’s worst defense?  Despite a solid offseason, the expectations should be muted due to so many unanswered variables.  Still in this league, a turnaround and playoffs are never out of the question.

Best Case Scenario: Olsen completely transposes his heart and determination onto the team.  They fight with heart week in and week out, managing to secure a wildcard playoff spot.  Charlie Davies proves to be a goalscoring machine.  Kitchen and Jakovic hold down the fort, leading a much improved backline. 

Worst Case Scenario: Olsen bombs out with the job.  The club repeats last year’s travesty, with a continued inability to score goals (much less stop them).  Olsen loses out on a dream job because he might have gone for it too early.  Yet another offseason rebuild would likely follow in such a situation.

9 Responses to MLS ’11 Preview : Can the Black and Red Unite Under the Fiery Olsen?

  1. Robert Hay says:

    I wrote on another website that I think the natural formation for this DCU team is the trendy 4-2-3-1. You go Zayner-Jakovic-Kithcen-Brasesco in the back, Simms-McCarty, Najar-Boskovic-Quaranta, and Davies up top, or some variation of that in the midfield.

    This has the potential to be a good team, I think if everyone stays healthy and they play to potential a third seed in the Eastern Conference is not out of the question.

  2. Chris Riordan says:

    I read on Goff’s blog that he expects Burch to start at LB, couldn’t be less thrilled to hear this. I think Brasesco deserves a serious look there, even if he is more suited as a CB. It’s nice to add help anywhere along the backline, but I really thought they would upgrade the defensive flanks a bit.

    You actually share my ideal starting lineup, with Boskovic playing a central, but attacking role. I do think that Quaranta and Pontius are interchangeable on that left wing. The other upside is that both are versatile and talented enough to come off the bench and fill multiple roles. Or potentially Branko could be on the left wing, as in Montenegro and you have Tino or Najar play the keyhole, because I think Ngwenya and Wolff will mainly be subs. I suppose the flexibility is a good thing, a nice problem to have as a coach.

  3. Charles says:

    I don’t think that 3rd seed in the East is out of the question. That is WIDE open.
    Watching this years college class play in the preseason shows there are going to be some studs out there that earn playing time in their first season. Kitchen obviously could be/should be one of them and could improve DC a lot.

    Who would think that having injuries to force your team to put a 43 year old coach in goal would be a good thing ? Me….and MANY others.

  4. Alan says:

    I think without a doubt DC United will do better this year. They made some potentially good additions this year. I see them near of the top of the Eastern Conference.

  5. Charles says:

    O/T but…..
    Vancouver has sold about 15,500 season tickets so far, about 1,000 shy of their goal. No doubt they will raise the MLS average attendance.
    I guess they have more sponsors than anyone in MLS, too.

    The Don does it again !
    It is at the point where he could put a franchise in Willow Falls and you would have to think it must be a great opportunity in Willow Falls.

  6. bandeeto says:

    Best of luck to DC United. They were may favorite thing about my 8 month stay in DC. They will definately be my second team to root for this season, except when they play RSL. Reguardless of how this season turns out, I’m happy that DC fans are guarateed a wild ride!


  7. DC United could be very exciting this season. Weak still at the back, strong up top, there could be plenty of goals in games involving the black and red.

    With Charlie Davies, Andy Najar, Josh Wolff, Joseph Nwangya, Brank Boskovic and Santino Quaranta in the squad, there is no excuse for a lack of creativity or goals. However, they haven’t bolstered that terrible defence, and there’s no point scoring four if they concede four or five.

    They’ll improve, but not by much.

  8. Chris Riordan says:

    via “Unitedmania” … when asked, Olsen stated that the club would go with a two striker setup.

  9. Abram says:

    I’m curious, and I don’t know what his salary was, but does Charlie Davies, since he is on loan, qualify him for the DP category? DC could be a very exciting team if everything comes together.

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